Air New Zealand is preparing to add more domestic flights as the country eases lockdown restrictions but warns that cheap fares will not be available.

The carrier said today it plans to fly to most domestic airports when New Zealand moves to Level 2 of its lockdown, adding destinations such as Queenstown, Invercargill, Rotorua and Hamilton back to its schedule.

However, Air New Zealand will still be operating at only 20% of its pre-Covid-19 domestic capacity, chief executive Greg Foran said in a statement.

Inter-regional travel is currently prohibited under New Zealand’s Level 3 lockdown restrictions, meaning the carrier offers only a skeleton domestic schedule for essential workers to travel. At present, it also operates cargo flights and a handful of international connections.

Foran cautioned that even when New Zealand lifts lockdown measures altogether, domestic destinations will still see fewer flights and reduced frequencies.

“This is the harsh reality of closed international borders and a depressed domestic economy, with more Kiwis in unemployment and people watching what they spend,” he says.

He also says that distancing measures on board means during Level 2, Air New Zealand will not be able to offer the cheapest fare levels.

“One-metre social distancing means we can only sell just under 50 percent of seats on a turboprop aircraft and just 65 percent on an A320,” he says. “On that basis, to ensure we cover our operating costs we won’t be able to offer our lowest lead in fares until social distancing measures are removed.”

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is due to announce on 11 May whether New Zealand will move to Level 2 lockdown from midnight on 13 May.

Under Level 2, domestic travel will be allowed, and bars and restaurants allowed to open with distancing measures in place, giving a boost to the country’s battered tourism and hospitality industry.

Foran says, “We live in the best country on earth and on our doorstep have world class accommodation, attractions and activities. We’ll be strongly encouraging Kiwis to support our tourism sector and to visit friends and family.”

New Zealand’s borders will remain closed to non-citizens, although Ardern is working with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on the possibility of opening up a trans-Tasman bubble to enable travel between both nations.